I analyzed Trump’s lies and wrote about my findings. Now an army of Trump supporters has invaded my email and social media, leaving cruel and hateful messages. Let me explain.
I usually write about single life. That’s my passion. But I spent the first two decades of my professional life studying liars and their lies, so occasionally something gets me thinking about deception again. That happened recently when I saw that the Washington Post had been keeping a record of all of President Trump’s falsehoods, misleading statements, and flip-flops.
In my earlier research with ordinary people not in the public eye, I collected their diaries of their lies, counted the lies, and categorized them as self-serving, kind, or cruel. (You can read more of the details here.) I categorized Trump’s lies the same way. I found that (1) he lied much more often than the people I had studied (and the people others had studied); (2) he told a much greater proportion of self-serving lies, relative to kind lies, than other people; and (3) a remarkably high percentage of his lies were cruel lies, told to humiliate, shame, belittle, or disparage other people or things. Specifically, in my previous research, only 1 percent or 2 percent of people’s lies were cruel. For Trump, an astonishing 50% were cruel.
I wrote about my findings in the Washington Post in an article that got quite a lot of attention.
Most of the responses were heartening. People wrote thoughtfully about the topic. They asked good questions. I also heard from people in my life I hadn’t been in touch with for decades.
But I also got many vile messages from people I don’t know. On YouTube, someone called me an “ugly witch.” On Twitter, someone said, “Its [sic] amazing how many people hate you.”
Of course, there was also the predictable hurling of the “libtard” charge, as well as word play using the names of prominent Democrats. I wasn’t surprised when one person after another said that if I wanted to study liars, I should look in the mirror.
As this was happening, my home was in the path of the California wildfires. (It still is.) I set up an automatic message on my email account to tell people that I might have to evacuate (I did) and it could take a while for me to get back to them. Two people let me know that they were happy that the wildfires were headed my way. One said, “SOUNDS LIKE GOD’S JUSTICE IS HERE AFTER ALL” and “NOW IS THE TIME TO REPENT.” The other proclaimed, “Just maybe we’ll get lucky!”
On and on it went. As I stopped for an evening at a friend’s house or a motel, I checked my email, only to find still more vitriol amidst the many kind and caring messages from friends and family.
In protest of my article pointing out the extreme level of cruelty in Trump’s lies, his supporters sent me extremely cruel emails.
One person tried to harm me in ways that went beyond just name-calling. I’ll just say that it wasn’t physical and it wasn’t a threat, and leave it at that. I’m not sure whether I have any recourse, but I may look into it once I get to return to my home (assuming the fires do not destroy it).
Another line of attack involved expressions of fierce indignation that I had written about the lies of a Republican president but not a Democratic one. Many of those were scathing. They were also ill-informed. I did write about President Clinton’s lies and I discussed them on national television shows. Those were different times, of course, but I cannot remember ever getting any vile emails in response.
I know that many other people who have written about Trump have been treated far worse than I have. There was nothing special about what happened to me.
I wonder, though, how many people hold back from saying what they think for fear of such abusive responses. And I wonder how many do say something, but then retreat, because the verbal assault is just too much.
There’s something else I wonder about, too. What if all the time and energy and emotions that are now devoted to attacking people were instead channeled into positive and constructive actions that created real social change — change that redounded to the benefit of the people who need it the most?
[A postscript about something positive relevant to single life: For my Washington Post article, I was asked for a one-sentence bio. I sent them something that did not mention any of my books. An editor added that my most recent book is Alone: The badass psychology of people who like being alone. As a result, many people may now be thinking about alone time and single life in non-stereotypical ways. That book is a collection of blog posts and other articles. My favorite book about single life will probably always be my first one, Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.]